A toxic culture can precipitate a wide range of deleterious effects on an organization and individual members. The toxicity of an organization becomes obvious when overt behaviors demonstrate blatant disregard for social and professional norms. These organizations often become fodder for nightly “news” broadcasts as they are subject to boycotts, civil litigation, and criminal prosecution.
An organization’s toxicity can also manifest much less explicitly. Subtle behaviors and surreptitious actions are more difficult to detect or to evince intent. It is this uncertainty that allows toxic cultures to persist, to refine and more-effectively disguise maladaptive behaviors.
To combat organizational toxicity, leaders must appreciate the importance of a healthy culture, recognize the ingredients of toxic culture, and understand how to implement effective countermeasures.
In common language, “materiality” could be replaced with “importance” or “relevance.” In a business setting, however, the word has greater significance; no adequate substitute is available. In this context, materiality is not a binary characteristic, or even a one-dimensional spectrum; instead it lies in a two-dimensional array.
Materiality has been defined in a multitude of ways by numerous organizations. Though these organizations have developed their definitions independently, to serve their own purposes, there is a great deal of overlap in both. Perhaps the simplest and, therefore, most broadly-applicable description of materiality was provided by the GHG Protocol:
“Information is considered to be material if, by its inclusion or exclusion, it can be seen to influence any decisions or actions taken by users of it.”
Recognizing the proliferation and potential risk of divergent definitions, several organizations that develop corporate reporting standards and assessments published a consensus definition in 2016:
“Material information is any information which is reasonably capable of making a difference to the conclusions reasonable stakeholders may draw when reviewing the related information.” (IIRC, GRI, SASB, CDP, CDSB, FASB, IASB/IFRS, ISO)
The consensus definition is still somewhat cryptic, only alluding to the reason for its existence – corporate financial and ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance) reporting. As much can be surmised from the list of signatory organizations as from the definition itself.
In many organizations, complaints can be heard that there are too many programs and initiatives targeting too many objectives. These complaints may come from staff or management; many of them may even be valid. The response to this situation, however, is often misguided and potentially dangerous.
To streamline efforts and improve performance – ostensibly, at least – managers and executives may discontinue or merge programs. Done carelessly, consolidation can be de facto termination. A particularly egregious example of this practice is to combine safety and 5S.
An affinity diagram may stretch the definition of “map,” but perhaps not as much as it first appears. Affinity diagrams map regions of thought, or attention, within a world of unorganized data and information.
Mapping regions of thought in an affinity diagram can aid various types of projects, including product or service development, process development or troubleshooting, logistics, marketing, and safety, health, and environmental sustainability initiatives. In short, nearly any problem or opportunity an organization faces can benefit from the use of this simple tool.
Numerous resources providing descriptions of affinity diagrams are available. It is the aim of “The Third Degree” to provide a more helpful resource than these often bland or confusing articles by adding nuance, insight, and tips for effective use of the tools discussed in these pages. In this tradition, the discussion of affinity diagrams that follows presents alternative approaches with the aim of maximizing the tool’s utility to individuals and organizations.
Most manufactured goods are produced and distributed to the marketplace where consumers are then sought. Services, in contrast, are not “produced” until there is a “consumer.” Simultaneous production and consumption is a hallmark of service; no inventory can be accumulated to compensate for fluctuating demand.
Instead, demand must be managed via predictable performance and efficiency. A service blueprint documents how a service is delivered, delineating customer actions and corresponding provider activity. Its pictorial format facilitates searches for improvements in current service delivery and identification of potential complementary offerings. A service blueprint can also be created proactively to optimize a delivery system before a service is made available to customers.
By this time, many New Year’s resolutions have already been abandoned. Those that have not may still be ineffective in changing behavior or achieving desired outcomes. Setting goals, as a strategy, is far superior to making resolutions when it comes to reaching a desired future state.
Goal-setting can be personal in nature, as resolutions typically are, or organizationally-focused. In an organizational context, goals can be defined for individuals, groups or the organization as a whole.
Research suggests that goal-setting can be very beneficial to individuals and groups alike, but it is not without risk. This installment of “The Third Degree” shows how to tip the scales toward favorable individual or group outcomes by setting goals that are SMART, PURE, and CLEAR.
Unintended consequences come in many forms and have many causes. “Revenge effects” are a special category of unintended consequences, created by the introduction of a technology, policy, or both that produces outcomes in contradiction to the desired result. Revenge effects may exacerbate the original problem or create a new situation that is equally undesirable if not more objectionable.
Discussions of revenge effects often focus on technology – the most tangible cause of a predicament. However, “[t]echnology alone usually doesn’t produce a revenge effect.” It is typically the combination of technology, policy, (laws, regulations, etc.), and behavior that endows a decision with the power to frustrate its own intent.
This installment of “The Third Degree” explores five types of revenge effects, differentiates between revenge and other effects, and discusses minimizing unanticipated unfavorable outcomes.
The Law of Unintended Consequences can be stated in many ways. The formulation forming the basis of this discussion is as follows:
“The Law of Unintended Consequences states that every decision or action produces outcomes that were not motivations for, or objectives of, the decision or action.”
Like many definitions, this statement of “the law” may seem obscure to some and obvious to others. This condition is often evidence of significant nuance. In the present case, much of the nuance has developed as a result of the morphing use of terms and the contexts in which these terms are most commonly used.
The transformation of terminology, examples of unintended consequences, how to minimize negative effects, and more are explored in this installment of “The Third Degree.”
An organization’s safety-related activities are critical to its performance and reputation. The profile of these activities rises with public awareness or concern. Nuclear power generation, air travel, and freight transportation (e.g. railroads) are commonly-cited examples of high-profile industries whose safety practices are routinely subject to public scrutiny.
When addressing “the public,” representatives of any organization are likely to speak in very different terms than those presented to them by technical “experts.” After all, references to failure modes, uncertainties, mitigation strategies, and other safety-related terms are likely to confuse a lay audience and may have an effect opposite that desired. Instead of assuaging concerns with obvious expertise, speaking above the heads of concerned citizens may prompt additional demands for information, prolonging the organization’s time in an unwanted spotlight.
In the example cited above, intentional obfuscation may be used to change the beliefs of an external audience about the safety of an organization’s operations. This scenario is familiar to most; myriad examples are provided by daily “news” broadcasts. In contrast, new information may be shared internally, with the goal of increasing knowledge of safety, yet fail to alter beliefs about the organization’s safety-related performance. This phenomenon, much less familiar to those outside “the safety profession,” has been dubbed “probative blindness.” This installment of “The Third Degree” serves as an introduction to probative blindness, how to recognize it, and how to combat it.
Another way to Be A Zero – in a good, productive way – is to operate on a zero-based schedule. An organization’s time is the aggregate of individuals’ time and is often spent carelessly. When a member of an organization spends time on any endeavor, the organization’s time is being spent. When groups are formed, the expenditure of time multiplies. Time is the one resource that cannot be increased by persuasive salespeople, creative marketing, strategic partnerships, or other strategy; it must be managed.
“Everyone” in business knows that “time is money;” it only makes sense that time should be budgeted as carefully as financial resources. Like ZBB (Zero-Based Budgeting – Part 1), Zero-Based Scheduling (ZBS) can be approached in two ways; one ends at zero, the other begins there.
Interest in Zero-Based Budgeting (ZBB) is somewhat cyclical, rising in times of financial distress, nearly disappearing in boom-times. This can be attributed, in large part, to detractors instilling fear in managers by depicting it as a “slash and burn” cost-cutting, or downsizing, technique. This is a gross misrepresentation of the ZBB process.
ZBB is applicable to the public sector (various levels of government), private sector (not-for-profit and commercial businesses), and the very private sector (personal finances). Each sector is unique in its execution of ZBB, but the principle of aligning expenditure with purpose is consistent throughout.
This installment of “The Third Degree” describes the ZBB process in each sector, compares it to “traditional” budgeting, and explores its advantages and disadvantages. Alternative implementation strategies that facilitate matching the ZBB approach to an organization’s circumstances are also presented.
Effective Operations Management requires multiple levels of analysis and monitoring. Each level is usually well-defined within an organization, though they may vary among organizations and industries. The size of an organization has a strong influence on the number of levels and the makeup and responsibilities of each.
In this installment of “The Third Degree,” one possible configuration of Operations Management levels is presented. To justify, or fully utilize, eight distinct levels of Operations Management, it is likely that an organization so configured is quite large. Therefore, the concepts presented should be applied to customize a configuration appropriate for a specific organization.
Destructive behaviors existed in organizations long before they were given special names. The term “cancel culture” is not typically associated with business environments, but its pernicious effects are prevalent. Unlike a boycott, cancel culture destroys an organization from within, through covert and fraudulent actions.
Cancel culture effects all levels of an organization, but “managerial schizophrenia” is a common precursor and potent ingredient. Adverse behaviors signal abandonment of cultural and professional norms, the subsequent failures of collaboration, and the resultant degradation in group performance. Combatting these intertwined organizational cancers requires commitment from all levels of management and revised methods of oversight.
Thus far, the “Making Decisions” series has presented tools and processes used primarily for prioritization or single selection decisions. Decision trees, in contrast, can be used to aid strategy decisions by mapping a series of possible events and outcomes.
Its graphical format allows a decision tree to present a substantial amount of information, while the logical progression of strategy decisions remains clear and easy to follow. The use of probabilities and monetary values of outcomes provides for a straightforward comparison of strategies.
A Pugh Matrix is a visual aid created during a decision-making process. It presents, in summary form, a comparison of alternatives with respect to critical evaluation criteria. As is true of other decision-making tools, a Pugh Matrix will not “make the decision for you.” It will, however, facilitate rapidly narrowing the field of alternatives and focusing attention on the most viable candidates.
A useful way to conceptualize the Pugh Matrix Method is as an intermediate-level tool, positioned between the structured, but open Rational Model (Vol. II) and the thorough Analytic Hierarchy Process (AHP, Vol. III). The Pugh Matrix is more conclusive than the former and less complex than the latter.
Committing resources to project execution is a critical responsibility for any organization or individual. Executing poor-performing projects can be disastrous for sponsors and organizations; financial distress, reputational damage, and sinking morale, among other issues, can result. Likewise, rejecting promising projects can limit an organization’s success by any conceivable measure.
The risks inherent in project selection compels sponsors and managers to follow an objective and methodical process to make decisions. Doing so leads to project selection decisions that are consistent, comparable, and effective. Review and evaluation of these decisions and their outcomes also becomes straightforward.
An effective safety program requires identification and communication of hazards that exist in a workplace or customer-accessible area of a business and the countermeasures in place to reduce the risk of an incident. The terms hazard, risk, incident, and others are used here as defined in “Safety First! Or is It?”
A hazard map is a highly-efficient instrument for conveying critical information regarding Safety, Health, and Environmental (SHE) hazards due to its visual nature and standardization. While some countermeasure information can be presented on a Hazard Map, it is often more salient when presented on a corollary Body Map. Use of a body map is often a prudent choice; typically, the countermeasure information most relevant to many individuals pertains to the use of personal protective equipment (PPE). The process used to develop a Hazard Map and its corollary Body Map will be presented.
Many organizations adopt the “Safety First!” mantra, but what does it mean? The answer, of course, differs from one organization, person, or situation to another. If an organization’s leaders truly live the mantra, its meaning will be consistent across time, situations, and parties involved. It will also be well-documented, widely and regularly communicated, and supported by action.
In short, the “Safety First!” mantra implies that an organization has developed a safety culture. However, many fall far short of this ideal; often it is because leaders believe that adopting the mantra will spur the development of safety culture. In fact, the reverse is required; only in a culture of safety can the “Safety First!” mantra convey a coherent message or be meaningful to members of the organization.
Regardless of the decision-making model used, or how competent and conscientious a decision-maker is, making decisions involves risk. Some risks are associated with the individual or group making the decision. Others relate to the information used to make the decision. Still others are related to the way that this information is employed in the decision-making process.
Often, the realization of some risks increases the probability of realizing others; they are deeply intertwined. Fortunately, awareness of these risks and their interplay is often sufficient to mitigate them. To this end, several decision-making perils and predicaments are discussed below.
Myriad tools have been developed to aid collaboration of team members that are geographically separated. Temporally separated teams receive much less attention, despite this type of collaboration being paramount for success in many operations.
To achieve performance continuity in multi-shift operations, an effective pass-down process is required. Software is available to facilitate pass-down, but is not required for an effective process. The lowest-tech tools are often the best choices. A structured approach is the key to success – one that encourages participation, organization, and consistent execution.
A person’s first interaction with a business is often his/her experience in its parking lot. Unless an imposing edifice dominates the landscape, to be seen from afar, a person’s first impression of what it will be like to interface with a business is likely formed upon entering the parking lot. It is during this introduction to the facility and company that many expectations are formed. “It” starts in the parking lot. “It” is customer satisfaction.
Every organization wants error to be kept at a minimum. The dedication to fulfilling this desire, however, often varies according to the severity of consequences that are likely to result. Manufacturers miss delivery dates or ship faulty product; service providers fail to satisfy customers or damage their property; militaries lose battles or cause civilian casualties; all increase the cost of operations.
You probably have some sensitivity to the effects errors have on your organization and its partners. This series explores strategies, tools, and related concepts to help you effectively combat error and its effects. This is your induction; welcome to The War on Error.
Previous volumes of “Making Decisions” have alluded to voting processes, but were necessarily lacking in detail on this component of group decision-making. This volume remedies that deficiency, discussing some common voting systems in use for group decision-making. Some applications and issues that plague these systems are also considered.
Although “voting” is more often associated with political elections than decision-making, the two are perfectly compatible. An election, after all, is simply a group (constituency) voting to decide (elect) which alternative (candidate) to implement (inaugurate). Many descriptions of voting systems are given in the context of political elections; substituting key words, as shown above, often provides sufficient understanding to employ them for organizational decision-making.
“Fundamentals of Group Decision-Making” (Vol. IV) addressed structural attributes of decision-making groups. In this volume, we discuss some ways a group’s activities can be conducted. An organization may employ several different techniques, at different times, in order to optimize the decision-making process for a specific project or group.
The following selection of techniques is not comprehensive; organizations may discover others that are useful. Also, an organization may develop its own technique, often using a commonly-known technique as a foundation on which to create a unique process. The choice or development of a decision-making process must consider the positive and negative impacts – potential or realized – on decision quality, efficiency, and organizational performance factors.
In business contexts, many decisions are made by a group instead of an individual. The same is true for other types of organization as well, such as nonprofits, educational institutions, and legislative bodies. Group decision-making has its advantages and its disadvantages. There are several other considerations also relevant to group decision-making, such as selecting members, defining decision rules, and choosing or developing a process to follow.
Successful group decision-making relies on a disciplined approach that proactively addresses common pitfalls. If an organization establishes a standard that defines how it will form groups and conduct its decision-making activities, it can reap the rewards of faster, higher-quality decisions, clearer expectations, less conflict, and greater cooperation.
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